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BACK TO BASICS : Beyond Carnival Lights, O.C. Fair Keeps Its Agricultural Roots

July 08, 1993|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. and

As Orange County has grown, so has the Orange County Fair. But beneath the carnival rides, the concerts, the motorcycle races and the exhibition halls, the fair retains something of its agricultural heart.

Just as carnies and construction workers have been toiling to get the fairgrounds ready for Friday's opening, 4-H members from all over the county--but particularly its remaining rural pockets--have been working hard to get their pigs, sheep, rabbits, cattle and even rats ready for showing at the fair.

Jennifer Link, 16 and a member of the Trabuco Trailblazers, is raising a pig named Burton for show and auction, while her 13-year-old sister, Jamie, is raising rabbits and rats. Both were city girls before moving to Trabuco Canyon five years ago.

"I lived in Irvine, so (moving) was total culture shock," Jennifer said. "I had dogs and cats (in Irvine), but I wasn't in 4-H. I didn't even know it existed."

Last year, she said, she kept her pig at home, "but that got kind of messy" so she and the other members of the "pig project" keep their animals together on some nearby property. "Basically, I just do it for fun," Jennifer said. "I'm not in it for the competition."

A few canyons east, members of the Kanyon Kids 4-H pig project have also been getting their animals ready for show and auction. Although the chapter is based in Silverado, "we have people from all over Orange County," said Keith Parkinson, the father of Justin, a 13-year-old member of the club.

The pigs were born in February and purchased in March, when they weighed about 30 pounds. By the time the junior livestock auction comes around July 17, most of the animals will weigh between 230 and 250 pounds. The children, ages 9 to 19, are responsible for the care and feeding of the pigs, which can bring between $1.25 and $2.50 a pound at auction.

The kids will spend as many as 15 hours a day at the fair, from opening day through the auction. Justin Parkinson is now in his third year of raising pigs for the fair, and although a sentimental attachment made it hard to sell his animal the first year, now he's used to it--and he enjoys the money.

Overall, "it's been a great thing for these kids," said Joe Penhall of Laguna Beach, who has three sons in 4-H. "It's much better than hanging out in malls."

Beyond the livestock tent, contests and exhibitions at the fair include equestrian events, a rodeo (July 23 to 25), fine arts and photography, home arts and crafts (from corn-husk doll making to wool spinning), gems and minerals, a rat-and-mouse show and more.

This year's fair is a salute to crops and vegetables ("We're having bushels of fun" is the slogan), and there are plenty of related contests, some serious and others less so.

Among the contest categories are vegetable arranging, carving, tasting and smashing, as well as vegetable bowling.

There is even a "couch potato" contest, with the two finalists spending 12 to 14 hours a day on couches at the fair's entrance for the entire 17-day run of the fair. The winner gets $1,500, with second place receiving $1,000.

In similar vein, Tustin resident Jeff Block has been riding a Ferris wheel on the fairgrounds since June 17 and will keep spinning until closing day, July 25. He's trying to break his own record of 37 straight days on a Ferris wheel, and the fair is hosting his attempt as part of a tribute to the Ferris wheel's 100th birthday.

Ride prices range from $1 to $2.50 for adults. Mondays through Thursdays, a $10 wristband allows unlimited use of rides from opening to 7 p.m. All rides are 75 cents for children on Fridays until 7 p.m.

In addition to main stage headliners such as Merle Haggard and Eddie Rabbitt (see story, this page), there will be additional entertainment daily throughout the fair. The Bijou Magical Palace will feature magic shows six times daily, with the first curtain at 1 p.m. and the last at 9 p.m.

The Grandstand Arena, in addition to hosting the rodeo, will feature a family variety show featuring acrobats, aerialists and performing dogs at 2, 5 and 8 p.m. Monday through July 22. Also in the arena will be motorcycle speedway racing (Friday at 9 p.m. and Sunday at 8 p.m.), midget car races (Saturday at 8 p.m.) and a car show Sunday at 2 p.m.

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, parking is offered at two locations: the Automobile Club parking lot on Fairview and South Coast streets, and the airport lot on Main Street between Redhill Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard. Shuttles to the fair will be provided. Hours for the shuttle lots are Fridays, 6:30 p.m. to midnight, and Saturdays and Sundays, noon to midnight.

Bushels of Fun

The Orange County fair returns Friday with a vegetable theme--"We're having bushels of fun" is the slogan--and a salute to the 100th anniversary of the Ferris wheel. Such familiar fair attractions as the carnival, crafts exhibits, livestock shows and food booths will be on hand along with such entertainers as Merle Haggard, the Texas Tornadoes and Mitch Ryder. The fair ends July 25.

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